Plebian Pastimes and Air in Saudia Arabia


Dear Everyone,

September 23, 2011 at the organic farm in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia

More adventure filled days.  We began at 6:00 with coffee and Mamoul, delicious date filled pastries that one can get at the supermarket in a variety of fillings- pistachios, apricot- but are mostly date filled.  They have their own heading on the supermarket aisle. From this plebeian beginning followed even more plebian pastimes of digging beds and planting seeds in the early and dusty heat. We are working to get the whole lower area cleared and planted.  This activity involves digging out lots of crab grass that thrives here where many things fail. When crab grass is not involved, digging is swift because of the sandy soil. Cleaning each shovelful of grass makes for tedious going.

Swiss chard roots 1 year old. These survived the desert summer in good form.

The Prince showed up in good form and of course entertained us while giving the new garden manager, Paul, an introduction to the workings of the farm, especially regarding the personnel. He manages to be to the point, yet depersonalizes and regularizes the extremely sensitive.  He has great capacity to bring calm and normality. A Prince in more than name. He also repeated he would like to make this a commercial enterprise and does not want to spend a lot of money on it.


We napped during the middle of the day.  One cannot help it.  As soon as one sits or lies down, the eye lids close. That is it. Usually when I sleep in the middle of the day I am annihilated for the rest of the day. Here, sleep is invigorating. Waking up knowing the hours of sun are more limited than before one napped is invigorating in itself.

A caper fruit cleaned out by birds

Detail of sweetly scented flowers and thorns of the Acacia tortilis


At 4:00 a driver came to pick us up to go to the Agricultural show in Riyadh.  I was elegantly attired in my abaya of course.  At the door a pipsqueak security person who said- no women allowed met us.  EVERYONE was staring as if a freak had walked in, which I was.  We demanded to speak to the manager as the Prince had told us to go to the show office and ask this question. The pipsqueak who stopped us then referred us to another pipsqueak in a different color shirt, and we asked to speak to someone in CHARGE.  Paul, the calm garden manager, and former policeman used his very assertive policeman’s tone of voice and the pipsqueak materialized a large reasonable Saudi who affirmed that women were not allowed- and could only come on the first day of the show. At that moment, the Prince’s assistant came and said that when the Prince came they wouldn’t dare tell him anything.  I looked forward to trailing in the prince’s wake past all the pipsqueaks and to sweep into the show with my abaya flowing elegantly around me…………  It alas was only a daydream as they next piece of info was that the prince was already in the show and I, sorry, was to go home.  With all eyes staring, I was escorted to the car by my husband and driven home where I am typing this email in proper isolation.  A driver will pick me up later and take me to the restaurant for dinner with everyone.  I am sorry to have everyone tremble at the benign setting of an agricultural show.  The slight was made up for at the restaurant where the appetizers were so profuse they covered the entire table, followed by entrees that covered the entire table.  I had a lovely non-alcoholic beer.

Kate in her hiking gear


At home, the 5 wild dog puppies were waiting but scurried away.  I didn’t dare follow them too far for fear of running into their 5 huge family members that ran at Ben the other morning.  Caveman-like he picked up a pipe and roared at them.  They fled.  The puppies have evidently just left the den and unfortunately den #2 is the back of the greenhouses.  We have to endure the sound of the puppies wailing for the parents and their cute faces as they run away when surprised by us.  I would love to rescue them but…………………………………….


puppy update:  they are evidently getting used to being away from den #1 and are hanging out behind the greenhouses during the day.  About 5:00pm they come out and fight in the alyssum in front of the greenhouses waiting for the parentals to show up.  They move to outside the Prince’s tent where the boldest brown ones bark at us and the white ones cower against the walls. They must only be 9 weeks old. We hate to just leave them and not even feed them. Their cuteness is torture.


Friday the 22nd, our Sunday

We have a day off today, but have no wheels.  I passed out at 7:30 last night.  This place takes it out of you.  Ben sleeps for 2 hours at lunchtime and still goes to bed early. The van is still in the shop and the truck hardly runs.  Between no wheels, the voracious mosquitoes keeping us indoors after dark- we need fresh air.  It doesn’t help that at the Diriyah ruins surrounding the farm the workers- can one call them that when they don’t work- spend a lot of time staring at us working in the garden. We are like a local scandalous TV soap opera on the hoof

Ben in his hiking gear. Farm fence on left.


We went for a VERY nice walk down the wadi Hanifah this morning amidst the extreme xeric landscaping of limestone slabs, rock edged paths and thorn covered acacias, plus a fair amount of native vegetation that came up with the spring rains.  It is far greener this year than last even and it is beginning to look like a place of nature. The planted vitex, acacias, atriplex and pennisetums have grown tremendously. There are lots of birds twittering around- bulbuls and the mynahs, plus some green parakeets. Some of the acacias have nests in them. Stone circular seating areas with pits for fires interspersed with the landscape are about 5 minutes walk apart. The landscape goes for miles, yet it is mostly deserted except by the workers during the week who litter it with abandon.

Signs for the Wadi Hanifah showing its purpose: to connect people with nature.


We are going on a desert walk this afternoon with the expat community.  There should be about 150 of us.  Expat encompasses not just western, but Asian, Middle Eastern, and a few Africans- all with interesting stories about life and work shared amongst the ever-present dust and rocks as if it were a vast living room outfitted with over-stuffed couches and lounge chairs- under a burning sky.

A view down the wadi Hanifah, scenic park as well as floodway.

Ben next to an heavily thorned Acacia tortilis

A view down the wadi showing the remarkable design in an arid land.

Another view down the wadi showing areas designed to catch and filter water.

The historic Diriyah graveyard


Best regards and love from us,

Kate and Ben


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